Kenya: Wave of Femicide in Short-Term Rental Houses a Threat to Women Economic Empowerment

Photo Credit: Wamweru Muthara

Wamweru Muthara

Kenya has been gripped by sadness and wailing as senseless acts of violence and murder on young women in short-term rental houses continue to be reported. Unfortunately, this has also presented a chance for some to castigate the young women who have, sadly, found themselves in the hands of cruel men who have lured some of them to their deaths, through gross forms of violence and outright murder. While these gruesome incidents have sent a chill down the spine of many women, I have battled sleepless nights wondering what this means for those of us in the short-term rental business, as various leaders spew words and views on measures they will take to regulate the business. 

In 2019, I was employed in Nanyuki, some 195 Kilometers away from Kenya’s Capital, Nairobi, where most of my family members and I lived. Although my employer provided me with accommodation in Nanyuki, I would often be required to travel and stay in Nairobi for work and visiting with my family. As a result, I decided to venture into the short-term rental business in order to afford my second house in Nairobi. This option gave me the flexibility I needed to maintain a ‘safe place’ where I could stay while in the City. Importantly, however, it proved to be a dependable source of extra income where I could generate almost $600 in monthly rental income.

Being a young woman who had always craved financial independence, owing to my poor background, finding a business opportunity that would earn me a passive income after I had spectacularly failed at farming and selling food, was heaven sent. For the next few months, I successfully managed the short-term rental unit while in Kenya and abroad, albeit minimal challenges. After tracking the annual revenues, I figured that I had just discovered a formula for owning property without necessarily having to raise the often heavy investment required to purchase and maintain a property. Years later, I weighed my options and decided that this was the business I wanted to focus on because it required minimal effort and time investment. With platforms like Airbnb and at my disposal, besides employing several women to clean and manage the units, I set out my sails towards investing in short-term lettings as a pathway for property ownership. Indeed, it turned out to have been one of the best decisions I made because I later unfortunately lost my job, and was able to sustain myself with minimal financial disruptions.

According to Statista, insights on Airbnb’s 'Gender Distribution of Hosts' worldwide show that  in 2022, 49% of hosts identified as women! This is not surprising to me, because the nature of short-term letting business is very friendly to women entrepreneurs, who are either full time employees like myself, seeking an extra source of income or are housewives and/or women in other businesses. Unlike ventures in farming and food,  this business is barely capital intensive since one can even start with their house and house-hold items, yet according to Rachel Ann Rawlings (Utah State University), lack of access to capital has been proven to be one of the main barriers for women’s economic empowerment. 

Secondly, the business does not necessarily require intense physical management, thereby presenting a great alternative to women who are limited by time and mobility due to distance and duties. Similarly, across the world, studies have also shown that women make upto 70% of the workforce in the hospitality industry. And although many of them work in low paying jobs with few opportunities for career advancement, the hospitality needs created by the emerging ‘home-sharing economy’ now presents an opportunity for women to own businesses and property in the hospitality industry. This not only presents a new avenue for women to increase their incomes, but also to build thriving tech-enabled enterprises that can create jobs for many others. 

As leaders in Kenya continue to share their views on the need to put stringent regulation on short-term letting businesses, owing to the fact that some of the femicide cases happened here, I am inclined to question the intended impact of such calls on women’s businesses and gains made towards women’s economic empowerment. I am also inclined to view this as a diversionary tactic, which seeks to create a bad name for the emerging ‘home-sharing economy’ that is giving women an edge in attaining economic freedom, through increased participation in business and property investment. Yet, we all know for sure that the war on femicide and violence against women must be fought with the perpetrators, by going hard after them and bringing them to book on a timely basis. Training guns on short-term rental businesses is not only diversionary, but also delays justice to innocent lives lost and derails efforts towards women’s economic emancipation. 

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